Monday, April 4, 2011

Baruch Dayan ha'Emet.

That's Roszi, on the left. Probably taken in the early or mid-1930s.
I've known for some time that the generation of Holocaust survivors has been disappearing. Old souls are finding their way to shamayim, and in some way, are finding their way to peace after facing some incredible horrors. But -- as someone who in the past struggled to tie herself into the memory of the Shoah -- the reality of the passing of a generation never truly hit home.

Until now.

I've been meaning to write for such a long time about my husband's family and all of the amazing things we've found out about those who perished in the Holocaust. Tuvia's been cleaning out the home of one of his great-aunts and his great-uncle, and he's found some amazing things, including a document of donation to a British Mandate organization that supported a Satmar Hungarian community in then-Palestine, as well as the only surviving photo of Tuvia's maternal grandmother's family.

Tuvia's family hails from one of those places in Europe that switched hands a million times from Hungary to Romania to Austro-Hungary to ... you get the picture. They lived in Viseu-de-Sus, and we're fairly sure that's where the older siblings -- three sisters -- were born. When anti-Semitism started up, they move to Oradea, Romania, where the only surviving photo we have was taken. The family was shuttled off to the ghetto there, which was the second largest in Hungary, and were taken from the ghetto to Auschwitz in May 1944. The yartzeits (anniversary of death) for two parents and four siblings is in May 1944, because that's the last time the three surviving sisters saw their kin. (The parents and three of the four siblings are in the photo above -- a younger child was born after this picture was taken.)

After that, the sisters took a horrible journey that I will not detail here. My intent is to someday write the full story down, but the problem is that the stories are muddled and only one sister recorded her version. Records are impossible, the family stories are many, and ultimately the conclusion is that the Sisters Berkowitz journeyed to hell and back.

For one of the sisters -- Roszi -- that journey ended Saturday night.

From what we know from the one recorded history, Roszi suffered the worst of the sisters, both during and after the Shoah. After the war, Roszi lived in Sweden and then in Israel, and in one of the last legal documents by President John F. Kennedy, signed just days before he was murdered, he declared that Roszi was to be brought to New Jersey to be reunited with her family.

When I heard that she passed, all I could think was that she finally has her peace. I've spent simchas with Roszi, but I'm sure she never recognized me. Her mind was tired, and her soul was tired. Baruch dayan ha'emet. 

It's real now for me. The memory is slipping away. I can feel it, like sand through fingertips. What will happen when all of our memories -- the survivors of the Shoah -- have grown tired and faded away? I'm scared, really. I'm scared that history will repeat, and sooner than we anticipate we'll return to the earth as dust.